Truth is like a puzzle. It is a story made up of facts stitched together. Shuffle a piece from one place to another, and you get a completely different picture. It is even perceptional. Truth can be normal for the spider, while at the same time, it can be chaotic for the fly. Society believes truth is absolute, but most artists know it doesn’t exist. For us, a lie is the purest form of storytelling, and the truth, in fact, is a lie itself. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon explores a similar depth. Influenced by the auteur’s genius, Ridley Scott hunts for the meaning of truth in his 13th-century medieval drama, The Last Duel.
The film based on Eric Jager’s book, captures a real incident about the last official duel fought in Medieval France to serve legal justice. Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck adapted the story for the screenplay, and divided it into three parts to depict the three versions of the same incident. Evidently, all three versions couldn’t be authentic, and only one of them was speaking the truth. Let’s find the actual version of the narrative and the reason behind the lies.
‘The Last Duel’ Plot Summary – Why was the Last Duel Announced?
Once upon a time, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), the two fierce warriors of Medieval France, shared an unbreakable bond.
Jean, the savage soldier, was born into royalty and was entitled to the captaincy of Fort Belleme, which his family held for generations. On the other hand, Jacques was raised in a church with neither a name nor wealth. Hence he became a man of war and words. Together they fought at the Battle of Limoges in 1370. However, the new Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck) had asked the troops to hold the bridge, but Jean attacked the enemies to prove his bravery. Jean saved Jacques’ life but made an enemy by refusing to follow Pierre’s order.
With the order of King Charles VI, Pierre became Jean’s overlord and started a campaign to raise war levies. Pierre, impressed with Jacques’s loyalty and courtesy, charged him with collecting the debt. Soon, Jacques visited Jean’s domain to collect the levies. Jean lost half of his workforce, his wife, and his kid to the plague and had little rent collection to pay the debts. But he knew that Pierre wouldn’t listen to his plea or favor him like Jacques. Hence, he decided to embark on another battle, The Battle of Normandy (1380), to raise the capital.
After the battle, Robert de Thibouville provided Jean and his men shelter. During dinner, Robert visited Jean with his beautiful daughter, Marguerite. At the battle of Poitiers, Robert sided with the English and betrayed the French king. He bore a traitor’s mark, and thus no one was ready to marry Marguerite. When Jean learned that there was a dowry associated, he didn’t hesitate and asked Marguerite’s hand from Robert to pay his debts to Pierre.
Jean wanted a piece of land called Aunou-Le-Faucon in the dowry. However, Robert had an outstanding debt to Pierre, and Jacques took the land from Robert. In appreciation of his service, Pierre gifted the Aunou-Le-Faucon to Jacques. It was one of the first dirty games that Pierre played to poison Jean and Jacques’ relationship.
Later, after Jean’s father’s death, Pierre handed over the captaincy of Fort Belleme to Jacques. Pierre’s decision pierced Jean’s warrior ego, and he unleashed a gust of anger on both Pierre and Jacques. But he was helpless. Pierre was powerful, and Jean was just a squire. He banished Jean from the court.
But the real blow hit Jean’s pride when Jacques saw Marguerite and fell in love with him. In Jean’s absence, Jacques broke into Jean’s castle and raped Marguerite in 1386. When Jean came back from Paris, he decided to take revenge on Jacques. He challenged Jacques to a duel to the death in the king’s court. As per the rules of the duel, whoever loses the battle would be proven guilty of his crimes.
Read More – ‘The Last Duel’ Theories
Why Does Jean’s Version of the Truth Don’t Matter?
Jean believed that a hideous crime had been committed. But he wasn’t present in the castle when Marguerite was attacked. Hence, Jean’s version of the truth relied heavily on the accounts that Marguerite narrated.
Unbothered about the truth, Jean had his own personal reasons for taking revenge on Jacques. First of all, Jacques took Aunou-Le-Faucon, which Jean cherished. Secondly, Pierre gave Jacques the captaincy of Fort Belleme that his family held for generations. Thirdly, Jacques started mocking Jean in front of the court.
Jean was entitled to knighthood during the Battle of Scotland (1385), but Pierre and Jacques refused to acknowledge it, which enraged Jean further. Jean was looking for a reason to unleash his blade on Jacques, and the attack on Marguerite became his excuse.
How Does Jacques’ Version of the Narrative Hold Him Accountable for Rape?
Jacques often believed that he had never intentionally wronged Jean in his story. The Aunou-Le-Faucon and Fort Belleme were gifted, and he never meant to betray his friend. However, Jacques had become a puppet of Pierre, the fact that he never realized.
Pierre told Jacques about Marguerite and aroused his interest in her. He said to Jacques that Marguerite was a learned woman who didn’t deserve an illiterate savage like Jean. When Jacques first saw Marguerite, he instantly fell in love with her. He started stalking Marguerite like a creep and was just looking for a chance to strike up a conversation. After a verbal argument between Jacques and Sir Jean, Jacques decided to teach Jean a lesson and confess his love to Marguerite.
Jacques visited an unguarded castle with his close companion, Adam Louvel, and took Marguerite by force. He expressed his feelings to Marguerite. However, when she refused to accept his love, Jacques, in his blind madness, raped Marguerite. He asked Marguerite to keep the incident secret, or else Jean would kill her.
Even when Jacques confessed his sins to a church priest, he explained that he committed adultery under the influence of love. Throughout his narrative, Jacques believed that his hideous crime was an act of love. He told Pierre, “Of course, she made the customary protest, but she is a lady.” Maybe it was too early for Jacques to understand the concept of consent.
Pierre supported Jacques in his sins, and explained that ordinary minds don’t understand the complexities of love. Hence, in front of the King, Jacques denied the acquisitions against him and decided to prove his innocence through the Duel.
Why Did Marguerite Want To Get Rid of Jean?
Jacques had already confessed his crimes in his version of the truth when he told Pierre that Marguerite protested, yet he forced himself upon her in love. However, in Marguerite’s version of the truth, many subtle hints suggest that Marguerite lured Jacques to get rid of Jean or get a baby.
To begin with, a textual super-screen used a fade transition in Marguerite’s version. During the transition, the letters “The Truth” remained on screen for a brief moment, suggesting that Ridley Scott was hinting to viewers that this version could be the true story.
Jean married Marguerite for two reasons: to get her dowry and a royal heir from her. Marguerite’s story began with Jean shamefully begging for Aunou-Le-Faucon in front of royal guests in the church who had attended Marguerite’s marriage. The scene established that an uneducated Jean valued dowry more than his educated and elegant wife, Marguerite.
Every night, Jean forced himself upon Marguerite to get her pregnant. He was a man who didn’t understand a word about romance or intimacy. In his male ego, he was ready to blame Marguerite for not being able to conceive. Like all toxic men, even Jean believed, what could be wrong with a fierce warrior? All these minute details were duly underlined in Marguerite’s version of the truth.
When Jean went off to fight in the battle of Scotland, Marguerite took charge of the estate and managed it with grace. She liked looking after the day-to-day activities, and the skin of a working woman created an enchanting aura around her. An educated Marguerite wanted to be something more than a trophy wife who was there to conceive a male heir. She wanted to work and be equal to men. But she knew that all this happiness would be lost once Jean returned from his campaign.
Note: More Details have been explored in Eric Jager’s Book.
Did Marguerite Frame Jacques?
It could be speculated that Marguerite lured Jacques to get rid of Jean. When she first met Jacques, he tried to kiss her more than she expected. Marguerite noticed Jacques’ inclination towards her and was well aware of his enmity with Jean. When Jean returned to Scotland and headed to Paris, Marguerite intentionally mentioned to him that Jacques was in Agrentan. Marguerite keenly observed Jacques, and perhaps she was well-aware of his intentions.
Hence, on the day when there was no one on the estate, Marguerite opened the door for Jacques. Marguerite liked Jacques and wanted to have a child. Who could have been better than an educated and handsome warrior, Jacques? Soon after the attack, Marguerite got pregnant with a child, probably Jacques’ child. In all probability, it was still rape, and Jacques was guilty of it. Even if Marguerite orchestrated the whole setup, she had her reasons. In a feudal society, there were few options to seek justice, especially for women.
Later, Marguerite framed Jacques to save her honor and get rid of Jean. She believed that in his savage rage, Jean would invite his own doom, like he did throughout the film. And that’s what happened. Jean challenged Jacques to a duel. She believed that Jean would die in the duel and that she would get an estate and a child to spend her life with. But something went wrong.
After an embarrassing humiliation in the king’s court, the priest informed Marguerite that if Jean lost the duel, then she too would be burned alive for falsely testifying against Jacques. Jean was ready to sacrifice his wife and a child for his honor, and Marguerite didn’t expect this from him.
‘The Last Duel’ Ending, Explained – Who Won The Duel?
Marguerite gave birth to a son while Jean prepared for the last duel with Jacques. Marguerite was compelled to support her husband in this fierce battle because her life depended on Jean’s victory. Maybe her plan to get rid of Jean didn’t work out as she expected.
On December 29th, in Paris, Jean and Jacques faced each other for the last time in the presence of the king and his royalty. After an intense battle, Jean defeated Jacques and forced him to confess his crimes. However, even in the end, Jacques didn’t confess guilt. He told Jean, “Carrouges, there was no rape. I am innocent of the crime! “His words could give rise to two perceptions. Either Jacques didn’t consider his savage act an act of rape, Or maybe Marguerite lured him into committing the crime.
After the duel, Jean mistreated Marguerite. She had called Jacques handsome, and Jacques’ death confession made Jean believe that his friend was actually telling the truth. Jean thought that Marguerite manipulated the truth for reasons only she knew. But whatever the reason might be, through this duel, Jean regained his honor and became a celebrated warrior in France. While his rival, Jacques, whom he wanted to get rid of for many reasons, was stripped naked and hanged in public.
However, Jacques’s end wasn’t the end of Marguerite’s miseries. An epilogue scene pointed out the fact that Jean fought in the Holy Crusade war and died in the battle. It was only after his death that Marguerite spent a prosperous and happy life as the lady of the estate. Marguerite understood the bliss of being an independent woman, and she was very well aware of the miseries that men brought into her life. Hence, after Jean’s death, she never married again. Marguerite neither wanted Jean nor Jacques, but she wanted a child and peace.
The Last Duel is a 2021 period drama film directed by Ridley Scott.